The Los Angeles Dodgers are the proud owners of a 1-0 lead in the 2017 World Series behind a dominating outing from Clayton Kershaw and his bullpen pals Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jensen. The game turned in the bottom of the sixth, during the most magnificently bearded confrontation in World Series history.
With Chris Taylor on first and two outs, Justin Turner took a swing at a 1-2 Dallas Keuchel offering and deposited in the left field seats on what looked like a harmless, if deep, flyball off his bat.
Turner’s homer followed matching solo shots from Taylor leading off the bottom of the first, and Alex Bregman’s equalizer in the fourth. Thus, all four runs scored on dingers.
This is nothing new for the 2017 playoffs. Through 32 games of postseason play, there have been 262 runs scored. Exactly half have been plated by a homer. This followed a season when MLB easily set a new record for long balls in a single season.
Homers are fine, in moderation. And MLB has tipped way beyond balanced diet into dinger gluttony.
Baseball is better when the ball is in play. And we only need look back at a few recent postseasons to see evidence of this.
In Game 7 of the ALCS, the turning point was not Evan Gattis’ homer to open the scoring, or Jose Altuve’s opposite field shot to double the ‘Stros lead. No, the most memorable play was Todd Frazier’s grounder to third in the top of the fifth, where Alex Bregman was able to nail Greg Bird with the potential tying run.
Bregman’s play was magnificent. His throw to catcher Brian McCann, the former Yank, needed to be perfect to nab Bird. And it was, with McCann barely needing to move his mitt to get the out. Repeated viewings allowed us to marvel how McCann managed to hold on to the ball, and his glove, and avoid injury. And we could see what kind of chance Bregman had at a double play had he opted to go to second (none, by the way. If he’d tried to get the lead runner, he’d have gotten nobody out). If Bird is safe, the Yankees have tied the score, with runners at first and second and just one out. We might have been looking at an entirely different result if the gamble hadn’t paid off.
A poorly struck ball gave us the game’s best, most interesting play.
Two years earlier, we had a similar situation in Game 5 of the World Series. With his Royals trailing by a run in the top of the ninth, Eric Hosmer raced home on a one-out bouncer to third, scoring when Lucas Duda’s throw to the plate sailed wide of catcher Travis d’Arnaud. The Royals won the series three innings later. Hosmer’s mad dash was another fascinating gamble, and was again worth watching over and over to gauge just how the play unfolded, and how it might have unfolded differently.
Of course, the best play of this type happened a year earlier, in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the World Series, when Alex Gordon’s two-out single was misplayed into two extra bases by left fielder Juan Perez, and the world wondered whether the Royals would have been better served had Gordon tried to turn Perez’s miscue into the proverbial Little League homer. The subject was the source of debate for not just days afterward, but was even re-run by a Kansas City college team to test whether Gordon should have gone (their conclusion matched mine from the night it happened. Gordon’s chances of scoring were extraordinarily slim) the following spring. You can have Joe Carter going deep off Mitch Williams – give me the bottom of the ninth of the 2014 Fall Classic any day for intrigue.
I hope the 2017 World Series has a play like this for us. But as more runs are being scored by the homer, and more outs are being recorded by strikeout (Dodger pitchers fanned a dozen Astros last night), the chances of such an occurrence aren’t great. And that’s not a good thing for baseball.
Baseball is at its best when the ball is in play, when runners are moving on the paths. A homer is a moment of drama, but it’s over soon and any mystery is gone. But a single to center with a runner on second, well, that gets us wondering and watching.